Before Bangkok, Thailand was ruled from Ayutthaya, and before Ayutthaya, the Chao Phraya basin was ruled by collection of Kingdoms, one of which was the Lopburi.
The records of Thai history become less clear at this point – around 1,000 years ago. Marco Polo wrote briefly about the Lopburi Kingdom in book 3 of his travels, and there is a chapter devoted to it in “the History of the Yuan”. But there are sophisticated earthernware pots that can be found which date back thousands of years before that.
Unfortunately, what we know about the history of Lopburi before 1,000 years ago is based almost purely on the architecture, and separated into the “Early” period of the “Neolithic” and “Metal Age” indigenous people.
Then the “Funan” period – named for a Mekong Delta empire dated in Chinese annals of approximately 200 to 600 AD but with very few surviving relics
Then the Dvaravati period -named for a kingdom centred on Nakhon Pathom in the Western part of the central plain of Thailand. The “city” of Lopburi seems to have been founded during this period by a King Kalavarnadish, who came from Northern India in the 7th century, and it seems to have been either a seat of power or a town of great importance until the continued rise of the Ayutthaya Kingdom in the 18th Century.
After the Dvaravati period, came the “Lopburi” period where this city reached its peak of properity as a regional administrative centre of the Khmers from around 1000 to 1300 AD. It is this period that produced the earliest dated inscriptions found in Thailand and has a very distinctive artistic style, so it is here that the fog of history clears. Hindu or Buddhist art in Thailand with strong Khmere influence – like Prang Sam Yot which is discussed in an adjacent Blip – is often labelled the “Lopburi style”.
During the 17th Century, Lopburi regained its importance under the patronage of King Narai who rebuilt a large palace here. Narai was a keen game hunter, and liked spending time in Lopburi over Ayutthaya to pursue this pasttime – eventually he preferred it here. A visiting Frenchman at the time described Lopburi as being to the King of Siam what Versailles was to Louis XIV – a hunting retreat where the King could hold court over longer periods of time.
Indeed, the French took a strong foothold in Thailand during the time of King Narai, and established an Embassy here. The French also took over fortresses in Bangkok and in Mergui – in modern day southern Myanmar. With this growing influence came resistance. An anti-French faction grew within the King’s court, eventually toppling Narai in a coup d’etat, and returning the capital to Ayutthaya and leaving Lopburi as a backwater. For more on this intriguing story, listen to the Blip for Ban Chao Wichayen.
Today the town is laidback, and a little sleepy, with a population of less than 30,000. It is best known for two features: the ancient Khmer architecture, and the rather naughty crab-eating macaques that inhabit it. We are fortunate to get a very good view of both, as Lop Buri station sits right amidst it, but we will cover that in the Blip titled Prang Sam Yot.